Q+A: To Invest or Not to Invest in Super Bowl Ads

Image by 3D Animation Production Company from Pixabay

Football fans in Philadelphia and Kansas City are preparing for the big game on Sunday, February 12. Fans across the country without an allegiance are tuning in for the other Super Bowl pastime – the commercials.

Super Bowl advertising is a behemoth. Companies spend millions of dollars on the ad spot alone. With millions of potential viewers and millions of dollars at stake, is the coveted Super Bowl advertisement worth it?

LeBow College of Business Associate Clinical Professor of Marketing Boryana Dimitrova, PhD, shared insight with the Drexel News Blog on Super Bowl marketing trends and the decisions companies weigh on whether to appear on screen during the big game.

Why does it feel like it’s the same brands advertising every year?

Every Super Bowl we see the same brands show up in commercial breaks. For some it’s a tradition – it’s part of who they are as a brand. However, we do occasionally see newbies as well.

The question is “is it worth paying $7 million for a 30 second spot?” The answer would vary, depending on the brand, and the desired and actual outcome. First, let’s look at the outcome. A lot of the incumbent brands are not there for brand awareness. They are there because it’s what they do and they can afford the hefty ad price. They do, however, try to create some buzz on social media before the Super Bowl and get people talking about them. Whether it’s releasing a teaser or, lately, even the full ad on platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, they hope they get all eyes on them.

Then, of course, come the critics after the Super Bowl who get to claim who the winners and losers of the Super Bowl ad fiasco are. And, with that, comes more buzz. Positive or negative, people are still talking about these brands and the ads continue to be available on social media.

In fact, one of the most popular Super Bowl commercials of all time – the Volkswagen Darth Vader commercial, which aired during the 2011 Super Bowl – has been deemed one of the most successful Super Bowl commercials of all time and has 1.4 million views on YouTube. This is quite impressive.

Can new brands break into the mix?

Let’s briefly talk about the newbies. An example would be Coinbase which appeared in last year’s Super Bowl. Was it worth it for them? This would depend on how they defined success. They did get a record number of visits on their app but, as a result, their app crashed. Maybe they just weren’t ready to go that big in the blink of a moment. They may have been better off investing the Super Bowl ad money into growing more gradually and organically using engaging social media content and targeted social media ads.

In fact, even big brands can sometimes benefit from a similar strategy. In 2010, for example, for the first time in 23 years Pepsi decided to skip the Super Bowl and donate $25 million towards community projects. The ideas for the community projects were submitted by regular people who hoped to see an improvement in their community. This was called the “Pepsi Refresh Project” and had tremendous outcomes for the brand and the communities who benefited. And keep in mind, this was at a time when social media isn’t what it is today. It was 13 years behind, which seems like a lifetime, given the progress that has been made in social media marketing.

How are brands using social media to supplement or complement their Super Bowl ad strategies?

The real question is why social media is so enticing and brands like to use it, despite substantial investments in Super Bowl commercials. First, social media allows for a three-way conversation, unlike traditional TV ads that only go one way – from the brand to the consumer. Social media allows brands to communicate with their consumers, and consumers to interact with brands and with other like-minded consumers.

In other words, consumers’ voices are heard. This usually leads to higher engagement rates on social media because customers are allowed to participate in the brand’s value creation process. Not to mention that, with social media or any other sort of digital platform – a brand’s website, podcast, newsletter ­– a brand can see what is happening with their marketing efforts and outcomes. To put it simply, they have the data they need to make necessary adjustments, if they are not meeting their goals.

This is not the case with Super Bowl ads which are very much like shooting in the dark because (1) you don’t know whether your target market will even see the ad (people do like to socialize during Super Bowl parties, after all) and (2) consumers who may be attentively watching the game are probably switching to their phones as soon as a commercial comes on because this is their time to find out what everyone is else is up to and share what they are up to on social media.

So, to invest or not in Super Bowl ads? It depends on the brand, the desired outcome, as well as how well brands integrate their Super Bowl ad with their social media content.

Media interested in speaking with Dimitrova should contact Annie Korp, Assistant Director, News and Media Relations, at 215-571-4244 or amk522@drexel.edu.

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